MOCHA


MOCHA (Ar. al-Mukhā), a port city on the Red Sea coast of *Yemen. It is famous for being the major marketplace for coffee from the 15th to the 17th centuries, when the Dutch managed to obtain some seeds from the coffee tree – seeds which the Arab traders had guarded zealously – and soon enough were cultivating coffee in their colony of Indonesia. According to a sketch plan compiled by Brouwer (p. 143), the population of Mocha may have reached 20,000 permanent residents including a Jewish community (p. 228). It was the principal port for Yemen's capital, *San'a, until it was eclipsed in the 19th century by *Aden and Ḥudayadah as Yemen's main port. That, along with the fact that the Arabs no longer had an exclusive hold on the coffee trade, eventually pushed the city of Mocha into obscurity.

The earliest information about a Jewish community in Yemen can be derived from al-Ẓāhirī's Sefer ha-Musar from the 16th century. Since then we have a flow of information about Jews entering Yemen through Mocha, such as the emissary and book-printer from *Tiberias, Abraham b. Isaac Ashkenazi (1578). As can be judged from the main source of this information – responsa collections of Jewish rabbis outside of Yemen, mostly from *Egypt – the Jewish community in Mocha consisted not of Yemenite Jews but of non-Yemenite Jewish merchants who settled there for their business and others who came for a limited time only. In about 1770 there were some 400 Jewish families in the town, including some wealthy merchants, craftsmen, goldsmiths, weavers, and builders of smelting furnaces. R. Aaron Iraqi ha-Kohen, the president of the Jewish community in *Sanʿa, lived there for some years as a ruler and judge (early 18th century), and his son Shalom, who also acted as president, built a magnificent synagogue there. After the British occupation of Aden in 1839 and its economic development, most Jews moved there from Mocha. In 1859 Jacob *Saphir found in Mocha only eight Jewish families living in a derelict quarter outside the city walls in wooden and reed constructions, as was the case in many other Yemenite towns. There were not enough members to form a minyan for Rosh Ha-Shanah services. One of the plagues common in this region caused the Jews to abandon the town and they dispersed in the mountain villages. The number of Jews gradually dwindled and by the 20th century no Jews remained in Mocha.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Zechariah al-Ẓāhirī, Sefer ha-Musar, ed. by Y. Ratzaby (1965), 39–40, 285, 424–6; J. Saphir, Even Sappir, 1 (1886), 100–1, 110b. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Y. Tobi, in: Shevet va-Am 7 (1973), 272–91; C.G. Brouwer, Al-Mukha, Profile of a Yemeni Seaport Sketched by Servants of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) 1614–1640 (1997).

[Haïm Z'ew Hirschberg /

Yosef Tobi (2nd ed.)]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.